The Weekly Consensus

Making a Budget, Checking It Twice

Maeghan Thompson

As we close out summer and enter fall, many of us will soon start thinking ahead all the way to the holiday season. Retailers and consumers alike are keenly aware that inflation rates are higher than they’ve been in decades and this holiday will be unique. Consumers are worried about being able to afford gifts as prices run away from them. Retailers are worried about what inflation means for both their costs and consumer demand. The holiday shopping season is sure to be different this year.

Every year, holiday merchandise seems to be on the shelves earlier and earlier.  And every year, at least some consumers scoff at this “holiday creep” and complain if they hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in public before Thanksgiving.  But this year, an early start to the holiday season might be openly welcomed, as shopping early may help consumers find the best deals.  Jungle Scout’s “Consumer Trends Report” found that nearly 30% of consumers began their holiday shopping as early as September, and 70% expect to start by Thanksgiving.

Early or not, with a potential recession on the horizon, 41% of Americans are planning to spend less this holiday season than they did last year, with about 20% of consumers planning to reduce spending by more than 50%, according to a survey by Trustpilot. The top ways consumers will look to cut back include buying items on sale, purchasing less expensive brands, and buying generic brands. Other ways consumers can cut back are by sticking to a gift list and/or a budget.  Further, a survey by Shopkick found that 37% plan to limit the number of people they buy gifts for, and 36% plan to shop online to save on gas.  Finally, shopping for used items instead of new can save money.

For retailers trying to protect margins during this year’s uniquely challenging holiday shopping season, correctly predicting consumers’ sensitivity to price increases and what that means for inventory needs will be critical.  But other retailers, cognizant of the competitive environment, are likely to prioritize market share and offer promotions and other incentives to retain customers.  KPMG’s holiday sales report expects an increase in the number of retailers being more promotional than they were last year. One such retailer that may be planning more promotions is Amazon, which, according to CNBC, is lining up another Prime Day in October.  This would be the first time Amazon held two Prime Days in a calendar year.

However, between a somewhat resilient consumer and inflated prices, overall sales may still grow this holiday season. Deloitte’s retail and consumer products team projects holiday sales will total $1.45 trillion to $1.47 trillion during the November to January timeframe, growing between 4% and 6% over last year.  While positive, this would mark a substantial deceleration from last year, when retail sales between November and January grew 15.1% year-over-year (to $1.39 trillion), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

To many people, the three months we have left between now and Christmas seems like a long time. But to retailers and shoppers on a budget, the gears of this important season are already turning. Best of luck, and here’s hoping for all of you that this year still provides happy holidays.

Headline of the Week

Founder of Patagonia gives the company away

As outdoor apparel and gear company Patagonia kicks off its next 50 years, its founder and owner, Yvon Chouinard, and his family have made an unusual decision. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children are transferring all ownership in Patagonia, which is valued at $3 billion, to two newly created entities — Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective — as part of an effort to step up its fight against the climate crisis. Under the new structure, Patagonia Purpose Trust now owns all the voting stock of the company. One hundred percent of the nonvoting stock has been given to The Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money it makes after reinvesting in its business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis. The company projects that it will pay out an annual dividend of roughly $100 million, depending on the health of the business.




Apparel & Footwear

Kanye West Terminates YEEZY and Gap’s 2-Year Partnership After Public Gauntlet

Kanye West has ended the deal between his fashion brand YEEZY and Gap after two years. Attorneys for the 24-time Grammy Award winner, 45, notified Gap on Thursday that YEEZY LLC is terminating their partnership in a letter that accused the retail giant of breaking their agreement by not releasing apparel or opening planned retail stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the letter obtained by WSJ, West’s attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. claimed that Gap was required to sell 40 percent of the YEEZY Gap line in brick-and-mortar stores during the second half of 2021, in addition to opening five retail stores dedicated to the YEEZY Gap line by July 31, 2023. It claims the company has yet to open a dedicated location. Although the partnership is terminated going forward, the letter allows Gap to continue selling existing YEEZY Gap products before ceasing to use the brand name. It also does not affect merchandise made through YEEZY’s collaboration with Balenciaga, which is also sold through Gap.

FatFace to debut in Canada as it expands presence in North America

FatFace is set to expand into the Canadian market as part of plans to grow its presence in North America. The lifestyle retailer plans to open stores in Canada by the end of April 2023. The focus will initially be in the province of Ontario, before expanding further afield with a commitment of up to six stores in the following year. FatFace aims to allow customers in the new locations to experience its offerings first-hand, including its unique Airlie range as well as specific products for the Canadian market. Customers will also be able to purchase products online. Alongside its proposed entry into Canada, FatFace has committed to a further eight stores per year in North America, with Michigan being the newest geography the brand hopes to open in during early 2023. The retailer has experienced sustained growth and profitability in North America following the initial openings in the US over six years ago. FatFace currently has 24 stores in the US.

Rent the Runway to Lay Off Nearly a Quarter of Its Corporate Staff in Order to ‘Navigate Potentially Rougher Macro Conditions’

Rent the Runway announced it will lay off about a quarter of its staff after the New York-based fashion rental company reported a net loss $33.9 million in the second quarter of fiscal year 2022. The company described the move as a restructuring plan aimed at reducing costs in order to “streamline its organizational structure” and “drive operational efficiencies.” The plan primarily includes total workforce reductions of approximately 24% of corporate employees, reorganizing certain functions and reallocating resources to continue to focus on customer experience and growth initiatives, Rent the Runway said in a statement. The company said this move will incur total cash charges of approximately $2.5 million in employee severance and related costs. Rent the Runway added that it expects this restructuring plan to be substantially completed by the end of the fourth quarter of 2022, and is expected to generate annual operating expense savings of $25 million to $27 million in fiscal 2023.

Vince Posts Q2 Loss; Shutting Rebecca Taylor

Vince Holding Corp., despite seeing momentum in the Vince brand, saw its net loss grow in the second quarter to $15 million, or $1.23 per share, from the year-ago loss of $0.6 million, or $0.05 per share. The company also said Monday that it is discontinuing its Rebecca Taylor business, which includes the Parker label as well. Those two labels were purchased by Vince Holding in November 2019 from Sun Capital for $19.7 million to diversify its portfolio and attempt to strengthen its stake in the contemporary fashion market. The deal at the time brought $84 million in sales to the corporation. While Vince, Rebecca Taylor and Parker are all considered contemporary labels, their price points and aesthetics are different. For the second quarter ended July 30, Vince Holding’s net sales increased 13.4 percent to $89.2 million as compared to $78.7 million in the same period last year, reflecting a 20.5 percent increase in Vince brand sales and a 27.9 percent decrease in Rebecca Taylor and Parker sales, combined.



Athletic & Sporting Goods

Peloton co-founders John Foley and Hisao Kushi are leaving the company in a broad executive shakeup

Peloton announced the resignations of two of the company’s founders and another top executive, marking the end of an era for the struggling fitness-equipment company as CEO Barry McCarthy dramatically reshapes the business.  Co-founder and former CEO John Foley resigned from his position as executive chairman of the board effective Monday. Fellow co-founder Hisao Kushi will leave his post as the company’s chief legal officer Oct. 3, while Kevin Cornils, chief commercial officer, who has been with the company since 2018, will leave Sept. 23.

Steph Curry To Sign Lifetime Deal With Under Armour Worth Nearly $1 Billion

Following his departure from the Swoosh back in 2013, Steph Curry began a rather fruitful partnership with Under Armour, signing a deal with the footwear brand that initially netted the athlete close to $4 million USD per year.  Curry’s current deal — which is said to be worth $20 million USD annually — is soon to expire in 2024, and will likely further evolve as negotiations of a new contract are currently underway. And according to reports by Rolling Stone, the Golden State point guard is nearly locked in for a lifetime contract with Under Armour that’s worth “potentially more than $1 billion.” Since putting pen to paper almost a decade ago, the two have produced a wealth of signature sneakers, which have served as a canvas for partnerships with Sesame Street as well as a symbol of support for STEM programs in the Bay area.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Face Reality Skincare Charts Path for Growth Through New Partnership with Norwest

Face Reality Skincare announced a strategic partnership with Norwest Venture Partners to accelerate growth, scale operations and bolster product innovation to meet increasing customer demand. “Our partnership with Norwest allows us to increase support of our current channels, especially for our estheticians, and at the same time, continue to deliver the innovative new products our customers have come to love,” said Jeremy Soine, CEO of Face Reality since 2020. “Our team has worked hard to provide life-changing skin care products to people with acne, and we are excited to partner with Sonya and the team at Norwest as we continue our journey.” Sonya Brown, Norwest general partner and co-head of the firm’s Equity Growth team, will join the Board of Directors. She brings two decades of investment experience that includes partnering with leadership teams to build successful skin care businesses such as MAËLYS and PCA Skin.

Puig acquires majority stake in Kama Ayurveda

Puig has snapped up a majority stake in beauty and wellness brand Kama Ayurveda, as it seeks to strengthen its foothold in the Indian market. Kama Ayurveda is rooted in the ancient Indian medical science of Ayurveda, which focuses on holistic wellbeing. Co-founded in New Delhi in 2002 by Vivek Sahni, who is now CEO, the brand has acquired a following for its largely vegetarian and vegan products, made with natural and organic ingredients (such as the bestselling $70 Kumkumadi Miraculous Ayurvedic Night Serum or the $61 Kumkumadi Brightening Face Scrub). The brand is currently distributed in India only. It operates 54 owned stores in India, with plans to operate more than 60 by the end of 2022. In addition, it’s distributed in the wholesale channel. Puig, which has held a minor stake in the brand since 2019, will support its expansion into global markets including the UK in early 2023, the Spanish conglomerate said in a statement. It did not disclose the financial terms of the acquisition.

L’Oréal Group invests in Chinese perfume brand Documents

China’s fragrance market has long been dominated by international brands such as Chanel and Dior. As young consumers become more interested in domestic brands and unique scents, niche Chinese fragrances are on the rise. Investing in the sought-after brand Documents secures L’Oréal’s goal to expand its influence in the local market as China’s niche fragrance market continues to grow rapidly. Through Shanghai Meicifang Investment, L’Oréal’s China fund, the Chinese luxury perfume house and the French conglomerate reached an agreement. With Documents as its first venture, L’Oréal established Shanghai Meicifang Investment in May. This round of investment was led by Cathay Capital’s Consumer Co-Creation Fund, a partnership between Kering, L’Oréal, and Pernod Ricard. Shanghai Meicifang Investment’s minority was part of Documents’ Series A investment round.

Makeup Prices Are Soaring as Social Events Eclipse Tight Budgets

US cosmetics prices rose in August by the most in almost 16 years as a return to office and social functions keeps demand resilient in the face of inflationary pressures. Prices for makeup, perfume, bath and nail products rose 2.3 percent in August from a month earlier, the largest increase since December 2006. Compared with a year ago, prices in the category were up 4.2 percent, the largest increase since 2009. Beauty was the only retail category that grew on a unit sales basis between late July 2021 and this year, according to data from NPD Group. While other discretionary products have seen flagging demand as consumers grapple with higher food and gas costs, beauty has maintained solid growth, both because cosmetics products need to be refilled and because many Americans are spending more time away from home. That demand has allowed companies to continue to raise prices while maintaining higher sales volumes.


Discounters & Department Stores

Walmart expands virtual try-on functionality with Be Your Own Model

In an effort to position itself as a fashion destination, Walmart announced on Thursday that it’s rolling out a new Be Your Own Model virtual try-on function, according to a company post. The new option allows customers to upload full-body images of themselves to the Walmart app and use them to virtually try on select apparel, per the release. This launch follows Walmart’s acquisition of Zeekit in May of last year, allowing the company to launch its Choose My Model function this March, which lets users to view apparel on a selection of over 50 models ranging in height, size and skin color.

Why is Family Dollar hacking at its prices amid inflation?

Last fall, Dollar Tree broke from decades of tradition with a new price point, the $1.25 tag, after a generation as a true dollar store. This year — after an executive and board shakeup — the parent company is going the opposite direction with its Family Dollar banner. Dollar Tree Inc. executives have said that in July they began making “price investments” at Family Dollar, which is retailspeak for slashing or holding down prices. The pricing moves at Family Dollar are significant enough that Dollar Tree Inc. lowered its profit forecasts for the year, with 60% of the guidance cut coming from the price investments. J.P. Morgan analysts led by Matthew Boss estimated that the price investments amount to $130 million to $135 million for the second half of the fiscal year.

Target partners with FAO Schwarz on exclusive, multiyear deal

Building on its past work together, Target on Monday announced that it has entered into a multiyear agreement with FAO Schwarz, according to a company press release. Exclusive FAO Schwarz toys will be available only at Target stores and its website, and at FAO store locations beginning in October. A space dedicated to FAO Schwarz will be in all Target stores and on the big box retailer’s website.

Belk names CEO

Belk on Friday announced Don Hendricks as its chief executive officer. Hendricks has been serving as the company’s interim CEO since May, and was the company’s chief operating officer since 2016. “Through my work with Belk’s board, leadership team and talented associates, I believe the company is well positioned to build on its current momentum and achieve success now and in the future,” Hendricks said in a statement. “Together, we will capitalize on the demand for great products at great prices, which Belk has long been known for, all while maintaining our unwavering commitment to customers and communities.”



Emerging Consumer Companies

Bachan’s, California-based sauce brand, raises $13 million Series A

Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce has picked up $13 million in new investor funding as founder Justin Gill continues to scale up his popular product inspired by his family’s recipe. The latest round was led by private equity firm Sonoma Brands Capital. As part of the deal, its managing partner, Jon Sebastiani, has joined Bachan’s board of directors. The new funding brings the total investment in Bachan’s to $17 million after it raised an initial $4 million in an earlier round. The company launched in 2019.

HopSkipDrive, youth transportation startup, raises $37 million Series D

HopSkipDrive, the Los Angeles-based company aiming to modernize the school transportation system, raised $37 million. The round was led by Energy Impact Partners, Keyframe Capital, FirstMark Capital, Alumni Ventures and Transform Capital. Having partnered with 400 school districts across 12 states, the Los Angeles-based company will use the cash infusion to build out its RideIQ platform, expand to new markets and reach more school districts. Launched in 2014 with the intention to provide transit options for young people, HopSkipDrive’s RideIQ offers ride visibility for on-demand or pre-planned rides. Rides can service groups or individuals, and routes are optimized to focus on underserviced areas, allowing traditional bus drivers to pick up students along the busiest paths.



Food & Beverage

Plenty to invest $300M in indoor vertical farm campus

Plenty and Driscoll’s first announced plans in March to build a vertical farm for growing the berry giant’s strawberries, targeting dense, urban markets in the Northeast. Today’s announcement shows Plenty’s ambitions go way beyond berries. “Through more than a decade of investment in research and development Plenty has cracked the code on a scalable platform that makes indoor farming increasingly economical,” said Arama Kukutai, CEO of California-based Plenty, in a statement. “Channeling that into the largest vertical farm complex in the world propels us to the level indoor farming has to operate at to truly transform our food system.”

PepsiCo rebrands SodaStream to better recognize interests like mixology

SodaStream is reaching for an image that is both premium and approachable with the repositioning, while preserving a long-standing focus on sustainability. The company, which creates countertop machines that convert regular water into the sparkling alternative at the push of a button, previously enacted a digital transformation and consumer-centric strategy three years ago. The world has changed a lot since then.

At-home gadgets that spruce up the kitchen saw a boon from the pandemic lockdown period, while fizzy drinks — including canned cocktails and non-alcoholic seltzers — continue to win consumer favor and upend the beverage industry.

Darigold breaks ground on $600M butter and powdered milk plant

Darigold broke ground on a $600 million facility in Pasco, Washington, to make butter and powdered milk products. When fully operational, the plant will process about 8 million pounds of milk per day from 100 area dairy farms, the Seattle-based dairy co-op said in a press release. It will feature two specialized milk dryers and a pair of packaging lines for powdered milk products, known in the industry as premium proteins. The facility will be able to produce nearly 280 million pounds of powdered milk products annually, including for sensitive applications such as baby formula.

Beam Suntory to invest $400 million to expand Jim Beam distillery

Spirits maker Beam Suntory plans to invest more than $400 million to expand production at its Booker Noe distillery in Boston, Kentucky, where it makes Jim Beam.  The expansion will increase the capacity of the distillery by 50% while cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half through the use of anaerobic digestors that will produce renewable natural gas to power the facility.  Beam Suntory said it has entered into an agreement with a renewable energy solutions company to convert spent stillage into biogas which will be treated to renewable natural gas standards and piped directly back to the facility. The digestors will also produce a fertilizer that will be made available to local farmers.  The project is expected to be completed in 2024.



Grocery & Restaurants

Next Level Burger gets $20 million investment to reach goal of 1,000 units

Next Level Burger, the plant-based fast-food restaurant based in Bend, Ore., has completed a funding round worth $20 million, the chain announced on Tuesday. “It means that our idea of reinventing the 21st-century burger joint into something that reflects the 21st isn’t just something we thought made sense, but some smart money agrees it means that we are very fortunate that we are in a position to fuel our growth,” Next Level Burger CEO and co-founder Matthew de Gruyter told Nation’s Restaurant News. “But [we will] not be forced to compromise our value set in the process of growing. We retain the keys to the kingdom and control as much as any of us can control anything in this uncontrollable world.” The funding will help the quick-service chain reach its goal of opening 1000 units.

Starbucks is investing in automation to make employees happier

Starbucks investor day — the widely anticipated annual event that was expected to usher in a new era of leadership and give details on the company’s teased reinvention plan — started with an introduction of a new beverage and ended the morning session with the discussion of store growth. While big news was promised, the Seattle-based company mostly addressed investors in vague terms about the future of the Starbucks brand, from digital innovation (including its just-announced foray into the metaverse), and how the company plans to address turnover rates and the growing unionization movement systemwide. Here is what we learned from tuning into the morning session of Starbucks investor day on Tuesday.

Home & Road

Home Depot’s customers have been resilient despite economic headwinds, CEO says

Home Depot’s business has remained strong even as turbulent economic conditions pinch consumers’ wallets, CEO Ted Decker told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Friday. His comments were in response to Cramer questioning him about whether he has seen the same signs of recession that FedEx CEO Raj Subramaniam warned of on Thursday’s “Mad Money.” “Our consumer, our customer, pro and DIY have been resilient,” Decker said. The company last month reported earnings and revenue that beat Wall Street expectations in its latest quarter and cited healthy project backlogs despite a weakening housing market and persistent inflation. “Our customer tends to have strong income. They tend to be homeowners. And guess what, they’re spending more time in that home, and that home’s aging,” Decker said. He acknowledged that the seasonal aisle has seen some softness, even though the project business has held steady.

Jewelry & Luxury

Patek Philippe Acquires Stake In Gem-Setting Company

Patek Philippe has acquired a stake in Geneva-based Salanitro, which sets gems for most major watch companies. The company declined to comment on whether Patek acquired a majority or minority stake, or whether the company will eventually be sold outright. Salanitro will continue to do work for other watch companies besides Patek, said a spokesperson. It has also gone into the manufacture of components such as cases and bracelets, as well as their setting and finishing.

Luxury Brands Spend More on Marketing, Defying Economic Uncertainty

Many luxury-good sellers aren’t feeling the same pressure to cut marketing budgets that has hit other categories in recent months, thanks to a booming market for luxury cars, travel packages and other premium products. Luxury brands are benefiting from pandemic-era growth in the net worth of the wealthiest consumers, along with the emergence of millennial millionaires and a rise in so-called revenge spending, or consumers spending more than they ordinarily would as they emerge from the pandemic. Global luxury goods revenue will increase from $309.6 billion last year to $349.1 billion in 2022, according to market-research firm Statista Ltd., en route to $419 billion in 2027.

Luxury Brands Prepare for ‘Millennial Domination’

As much as luxury apparel brands are mapping out their omnichannel future to tap into changing demographic trends and more brand-engaged consumers, there’s one big blind spot that needs to be addressed. “By [2025], Millennial & Gen-Z Will Dominate the Luxury Market with >70% Share,” stated an investor presentation last week from Tapestry, the holding company that owns the Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman brands, while outlining what it sees as the steps needed to grow its sales to $8 billion for the fiscal year ending in July 2025. Plans revolve around the changing styles and increasing buying power of millennials and Gen Z customers, with Tapestry coining the term “expressive luxury” to describe the new direction for Coach. It’s a departure from the brand’s “affordable luxury” market positioning of recent years and centers on an omnichannel approach to keeping its two prime demographics engaged in coming years.

Reed Krakoff, Former Head of Design at Tiffany, Joins John Hardy

Reed Krakoff, who spent nearly two decades as creative director at Coach and about four years at Tiffany & Co., is now joining John Hardy. The jewelry brand announced Wednesday it has named Krakoff to the newly created role of creative chairman as well as strategic advisor to L Catterton, the private equity firm that holds a majority stake in John Hardy. As creative chairman, Krakoff will work alongside CEO Kareem Gahed and oversee the creative and artistic direction of the business. He’ll also become a minority stakeholder in John Hardy. “John Hardy has a strong reputation for its authentic combination of artistry, sustainability, and craftsmanship, and I believe the brand has tremendous untapped potential,” Krakoff said.

Office & Leisure

Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness Say Their Pets’ ‘Unconditional Love’ Inspired New Brand

Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness are taking their relationship to the next level  — a pet product partnership. On Thursday, the Queer Eye stars announced the launch of their pet brand Yummers, which kicked off with a line of pet food “mix-ins” for both cats and dogs. Porowski, 38, and Van Ness, 35, partnered up with Rebecca Frechette Rudisch, a former Petco executive, to create Yummers. The three share a passion for pets — and giving them the best. Van Ness said that before Yummers’ creation, he and Porowski added mix-ins to their pets’ food “without even knowing that that was the term for it.” “We were like how can we take this, in some cases for people who need to fill out and round out their pets’ diets, and then in other cases, just wanted to give their pets something extra — take it to the next level,” Van Ness said. Yummers has 14 varieties of “mix-ins” for both dogs and cats, which add additional flavor and nutrients to pet meals, a release from the brand explains.

UK probes Microsoft’s $69 bn bid for gaming giant

Britain on Thursday announced an “in-depth investigation” into Microsoft’s planned $69-billion takeover of US gaming giant Activision Blizzard, citing UK competition concerns. US technology giant Microsoft in January announced a bid to create the world’s third biggest gaming company by revenue, behind China’s Tencent and Japan’s Sony, by purchasing the owner of hit games “Candy Crush” and “Call Of Duty”. The proposed deal, already controversial owing to allegations of sexual harassment against women at Activision, now faces a probe by Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority. “The CMA has referred the anticipated acquisition by Microsoft Corporation of Activision Blizzard, Inc. for an in-depth investigation,” a statement said. It added that the “merger may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within a market or markets in the United Kingdom”. Activision Blizzard’s portfolio also includes the popular game “World Of Warcraft”.

Technology & Internet

Amazon raises pay and enhances benefits for delivery drivers

Amazon is boosting pay and expanding benefits for the e-commerce giant’s delivery drivers. The company said Tuesday it will offer wage increases for drivers employed by its so-called delivery service partners (DSP), who ferry packages in the company’s vans. U.S.-based DSP drivers also will be eligible to participate in a 401(k) plan, with Amazon pledging to chip in $60 million in the first year to help business owners match employee contributions. Starting in January 2023, a new program will offer Amazon DSP drivers up to $5,250 per year in educational benefits, including for college classes, high school completion courses and skill certifications. Amazon will reimburse delivery partners for tuition expenses. Amazon said it will invest a total of $450 million to sweeten compensation and provide more benefits for delivery drivers. The initiative comes as the nation’s unemployment rate remains low, and as shipping, trucking and other transportation industry players compete for workers. Amazon works with more than 3,500 delivery partners around the world, employing more than 275,000 drivers, according to the company.

California alleges Amazon inflated prices with supplier deals

The state of California sued Amazon on Wednesday, accusing the retail giant of inflating its prices by signing restrictive deals with companies that sell on its platform. California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that an investigation by his office had found that sellers who use Amazon’s online marketplace would lower their prices if not for agreements they had with Amazon. As a result, he said, the state’s consumers had overpaid for years. The lawsuit ratchets up the criticism of the largest U.S. tech companies, which because of their size were already under intense scrutiny in courthouses, regulatory offices and legislative chambers across the country. At issue is what’s known as “most favored nation” pricing models, where a purchaser or a platform such as Amazon has a deal with a supplier to get the lowest available price. Years ago, European regulators and U.S. lawmakers criticized Amazon for using such deals, saying they created a disincentive for suppliers to lower prices elsewhere. And in 2019, Amazon abandoned the deals in favor of a different pricing model that it said gives sellers responsibility for setting their own prices. But Bonta’s office said Amazon still has made agreements that lead to higher prices. The lawsuit asks a state court to bar Amazon from anticompetitive contracts, appoint a monitor and impose damages and penalties.


Finance & Economy

Holiday shopping season expected to be muted as inflation squeezes shoppers

Retailers are scrambling to prepare for the fast-approaching holiday shopping season, but sales growth is expected to be muted this year as consumers cope with tightening budgets.  A spate of reports say shoppers are likely feeling thrifty as they face higher prices for groceries and other necessities. The consumer price index has climbed 8.3% over the past year, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. As a result, holiday sales growth is expected to be driven largely by inflation.  Already, retailers have relied heavily on discounts to move excess inventory and clear shelves in time for the holiday shopping season, which typically kicks off with Black Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s a critical time for retailers and can account for upwards of 40% of a company’s annual sales.

Retail sales growth sluggish in August as consumers fight to keep up with inflation

Retail sales numbers were better than expected in August as price increases across a multitude of sectors offset a considerable drop in gas station receipts, the Census Bureau reported.  Advance retail sales for the month increased 0.3% from July, better than the Dow Jones estimate for no change. The total is not adjusted for inflation, which rose 0.1% in August, suggesting that spending outpaced price increases.  Inflation as gauged by the consumer price index rose 8.3% over the past year through August, while retail sales increased 9.3%.  However, excluding autos, sales decreased 0.3% for the month, below the estimate for a 0.1% increase. Excluding autos and gas, sales rose 0.3%.

Mortgage rates hit 6%, first time since 2008 housing crash

Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates climbed over 6% this week for the first time since the housing crash of 2008, threatening to sideline even more homebuyers from a rapidly cooling housing market.  Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported that the 30-year rate rose to 6.02% from 5.89% last week. The long-term average rate has more than doubled since a year ago and is the highest it’s been since November of 2008, just after the housing market collapse triggered the Great Recession. One year ago, the rate stood at 2.86%.  Rising interest rates — in part a result of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive push to tamp down inflation — have cooled off a housing market that has been hot for years.